By the fall of ’78, as they were about to release their fourth studio LP Road to Ruin, the Ramones were a band in transition—not only in their sound but within their ranks as well.
“They wanted to make progress from album to album,” admits the group’s longtime engineer and producer Ed Stasium. “When it came time to start Road to Ruin, it was when [original drummer] Tommy [Ramone] stopped drumming. Tommy was sick of the road; it was driving him fuckin’ crazy. So they recruited Marc Bell from the Voidoids and Tommy became more of the architect of the Ramones; he would rehearse with Marky until he got it down. When I got to the studio to begin recording them, they were ready to go.”
Originally released on Sept. 22, 1978, Road to Ruin—at the time—was a chronicle of the Queens quartet’s most dynamic sonic shift to date. With Bell rechristened as Marky Ramone and Tommy splitting his production duties with Stasium and managing the group, the fourth Ramones LP boasted a much looser grip on the relentless machine gun punk that defined the New York City punk rock sound in the mid-70s, featuring complex chord changes and a closer reach towards the ’60s pop feel which was always at the core lead singer Joey Ramone’s rebel heart.
Featuring the iconic cover art of Punk Magazine founding editor John Holmstrom based on a fan-made drawing, not only does Road contain one of the Ramones’ most enduring street hits “I Wanna Be Sedated,” the original 12-track mix also featured maneuvers that were aimed directly at attaining the group more radio airplay, including a pair of ballads in the heartbreaking lament “Questioningly” and a sincere rendition of the 1963 Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono composition “Needles and Pins.”
The fire of the Gabba-Gabba-Heyday was present in the kinesis of blistering tracks like “I Wanted Everything,” “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do” and “Bad Brain” (where the legendary DC hardcore band got its name, btw). But it’s the lean towards the Ramones’ affinity for Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound that makes Road such a vital title in the group’s canon. And perhaps no other song better encapsulates the balance struck on Road than “Don’t Come Close,” whose 40th Anniversary Road Revisited remix — one of the highlights of Rhino’s brand new deluxe edition box set — premieres here.
“On the original, what struck out were the clear guitars,” Stasium says of the song. “It sounded so clean. It was a real step away from what the Ramones has done on their previous three records. There’s acoustic guitars in there; there’s a double track guitar solo. And when stripped down on the new mix, it’s really just Marky, Dee Dee and Johnny with one Joey vocal, sounding as if was being played live right to tape with no overdubs whatsoever.”
These Revisited versions stand as some of the tastiest treats from this current series of reissues, especially for those curious as to how Road to Ruin would have sounded without the studio polish utilized to appeal to radio programmers.
“We’ve been doing that as we go along,” admits Stasium of the Revisited versions. “A lot of the original stereo mixes were recorded really quickly, especially Road to Ruin. So we made it more of a mono mix, and scrubbed away all the overdubs and double tracks. We thought the idea of stripping down Road to Ruin to its basics would be the best tribute to it and a cool thing to do.”
In addition to the first CD, which contains both the remastered version of the original stereo mix for Road To Ruin and a new 2018 40th Anniversary Road Revisited mix created by Stasium, this anniversary deluxe edition of the album also features a second disc containing over twenty unreleased recordings, including rough mixes for every album track, starkly different alternate takes of two songs, and two unreleased outtakes of “I Walk Out” and “S.L.U.G.” completed by Stasium exclusively for this anniversary release. Other highlights include three different versions of “I Wanna Be Sedated,” including the “Ramones-on-45-Mega-Mix!” released in 1988 as part of the campaign for the Ramones Mania compilation, as well as acoustic versions of “Questioningly,” “Needles And Pins,” and “Don’t Come Close,” all of which are revelatory in supporting the Ramones’ underrated reputation as masters of melody.
For hardcore Ramones fans, however, the most decadent bonus material turns up on the set’s third disc: a previously unreleased recording of the band’s entire 1979 New Year’s Eve concert at the old New York City nightclub The Palladium, which was mixed live by Stasium, and broadcast on WNEW-FM. Recorded in New York City at The Palladium, it’s bursting with blistering performances of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is A Punk,” “Chinese Rock,” “Rockaway Beach,” and “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” along with several songs from Road To Ruin, including “I Don’t Want You,” “Sedated,” and “I Wanted Everything.”
“It was very much a period piece,” explains Stasium. “We knew it was a little later, but we couldn’t find anything from the immediate time except for shitty cassette recordings somebody did from the audience between 1978 and early ’79. But this WNEW broadcast was a great show, and it was a live stereo mix. We mastered it from a cassette that Tommy had in his private collection. That was the only known source. We couldn’t find the original ¼ inch tape, which disappeared when WNEW got bought out along with all the other archive tapes. Who knows what happened to them.”
And even though he was in the mobile recording truck the majority of the time live mixing the concert, for Stasium the energy that was coming out of his monitors as the Ramones ushered in the 1980s on this New Year’s Eve night at the Palladium was undeniable.
“I was inside the club in the beginning, because a Sire band I had worked with called Alda Reserve opened up that night and I actually introduced them to the stage,” he remembers. “I wore a tuxedo for the occasion. Then I was in the truck for pretty much the entire time recording the show. But it was a hometown show on New Year’s Eve, and the audience was stoked, that’s for sure. I could feel the buzz from where I was.”